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The Authorship and Publication of the Gospel of Luke


By Ron Jones, D.D. © The Titus Institute, 2010


 

The historical literary evidence demonstrates that Luke, the close associate of Paul the apostle, wrote the Gospel of Luke and published it after the publication of the private edition of Mark’s gospel and before the publication of the public edition of Mark’s Gospel.

The Authorship of the Gospel of Luke

The universal testimony of the early church fathers is that Luke, the close associate of Paul wrote the Gospel of Luke.

D. Edmond Hiebert sums up the strength of testimony to Luke’s authorship,

“The uniform testimony of Christian tradition, dating back to early times, names Luke as the author of the third gospel.”1

Donald Guthrie agrees,

“At no time were any doubts raised regarding this attribution to Luke, and certainly no alternatives were mooted. The tradition could hardly be stronger.”2

The following church fathers clearly state this.3

For a list of the early church fathers, who they were and when they lived, mentioned in this article, click here.

Their testimony begins with the earliest and moves to the latest.

Irenaeus makes a succinct statement regarding this gospel in his Against Heresies (3.1.1). In it he tells us that the Luke, mentioned as a companion of Paul in Paul’s letters wrote the gospel attributed to him. He writes,

"Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him.”

William Hendriksen speaks of the importance of Irenaeus’ testimony,

“This brings us to Irenaeus (fl. about 182–188), in whose writings there are numerous quotations from the Third Gospel. He was a pupil of Polycarp, who had known the apostle John. He writes, ‘Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the gospel preached by him.’ This testimony, coming from a pupil of a pupil of the apostle John, is important. Moreover, because of his many travels and intimate acquaintance with almost the entire church of his day, what this witness says about the authorship of the Third Gospel must be considered of great significance.”4

Tertullian also asserts Luke’s authorship of the gospel in Against Marcion (4.2)

“Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instil faith into us; whilst of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. These all start with the same principles of the faith, so far as relates to the one only God the Creator and His Christ, how that He was born of the Virgin, and came to fulfil the law and the prophets.”

Later in the same work he states (4.5),

“The same authority of the apostolic churches will afford evidence to the other Gospels also, which we possess equally through their means, and according to their usage--I mean the Gospels of John and Matthew--whilst that which Mark published may be affirmed to be Peter's whose interpreter Mark was. For even Luke's form of the Gospel men usually ascribe to Paul. And it may well seem that the works which disciples publish belong to their masters.”

Tertullian makes a significant statement about the role of the apostolic churches in handing down the gospels to Christians. The apostolic churches were the churches founded or established in apostolic teaching by apostles such as the churches in Jerusalem, Corinth, Rome, Philippi, Ephesus, and Antioch.

He says that Christians possess the four gospels by their (the apostolic churches) means and usage. That is, they were the channels through which the four gospels were spread throughout the world. This implies that they had them from the beginning.

C. Clifton Black writes about the significance of Tertullian’s testimony,

“Except for Augustine, whom we shall meet momentarily, Tertullian (ca. 160-225) was probably the most original thinker and influential author in Latin Christianity. Revealing his superb education in philosophy, literature, rhetoric, and law, Tertullian's literary output was largely polemical, defending the church's faith while savaging its heretics.”5

Later, Black explains Tertullian’s defense of the four gospels against Marcion. Marcion was a heretic who did not believe in the God of the Old Testament and wanted to eliminate anything Jewish from the New Testament. He rejected the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John and kept only parts of Luke’s gospel.

Black, explains Tertullian’s argument which emphasizes the authorship of the four gospels,

“His opponent, Marcion, has had the gall to shrink the Gospel canon to a bowdlerized Luke. Hence Tertullian's reprisal: exclusive seizure of Luke is utterly indefensible, since, as "apostolic men," Luke and Mark renewed the faith that had been introduced by the apostles John and Matthew. How dare Marcion abridge or impugn any of the Gospels? They concur with one another in faith's essentials; all of them flout Marcion's bastard confession; all were promulgated at the Lord's behest and carry the inviolable warrant of Christ and the apostolic churches.”6


The Publication of the Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke was composed for Gentiles who had become Christians.

Paul was the apostle appointed by Jesus Christ himself to go to the Gentiles with the saving knowledge of the gospel. It would be very natural for Paul to want to provide a gospel to converts from the Gentiles, which was particularly relevant to them. Matthew had written his gospel particularly to the Jews in their style of writing and emphasizing the truths from the life and ministry of Christ relevant to Jews such as Jesus’ fulfilment of OT prophecy. Luke was educated and a physician and wrote his gospel as a historian carefully researching and sifting out the evidence as he states in his prologue in Luke 1:1-4.

Origen, in his Commentary on Matthew 1 writes about Luke’s audience,

“Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a tax collector and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the converts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction of Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is in Babylon, chosen together with you, greets you and so does Mark my son.’ And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composed for the converts from the Gentiles. Last of all, that according to John.”

Notice Origen’s statement that Luke’s Gospel was commended by Paul. Paul not only approved Luke’s gospel, but was most likely very instrumental in motivating Luke to write it. It would be useful to Paul for the growth of the Gentiles he ministered to as well as those throughout the world.

Eusebius, in his Church History (3.4.7) identifies the author of the Gospel of Luke as the physician companion of Paul and author also of the Book of Acts,

“But Luke, who was of Antiochian parentage and a physician by profession, and who was especially intimate with Paul and well acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us, in two inspired books, proofs of that spiritual healing art which he learned from them. One of these books is the Gospel, which he testifies that he wrote as those who were from the beginning eye-witnesses and ministers of the word delivered unto him, all of whom, as he says, he followed accurately from the first. The other book is the Acts of the Apostles which he composed not from the accounts of others, but from what he had seen himself.”

Later, Eusebius gives Luke’s purpose in writing (Church History 3.24.15)

“But as for Luke, in the beginning of his Gospel, he states himself the reasons which led him to write it. He states that since many others had more rashly undertaken to compose a narrative of the events of which he had acquired perfect knowledge, he himself, feeling the necessity of freeing us from their uncertain opinions, delivered in his own Gospel an accurate account of those events in regard to which he had learned the full truth, being aided by his intimacy and his stay with Paul and by his acquaintance with the rest of the apostles.”

Jerome, in his Illustrious Men 7, gives a somewhat lengthy introduction to Luke,

“Luke a physician of Antioch, as his writings indicate, was not unskilled in the Greek language. An adherent of the apostle Paul, and companion of all his journeying, he wrote a Gospel, concerning which the same Paul says, ‘We send with him a brother whose praise in the gospel is among all the churches’ and to the Colossians ‘Luke the beloved physician salutes you,’ and to Timothy ‘Luke only is with me.’

He also wrote another excellent volume to which he prefixed the title Acts of the Apostles, a history which extends to the second year of Paul’s sojourn at Rome, that is to the fourth year of Nero, from which we learn that the book was composed in that same city…Some suppose that whenever Paul in his epistle says ‘according to my gospel’ he means the book of Luke and that Luke not only was taught the gospel history by the apostle Paul who was not with the Lord in the flesh, but also by other apostles. This he too at the beginning of his work declares, saying ‘Even as they delivered unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.’ So he wrote the gospel as he had heard it, but composed the Acts of the Apostles as he himself had seen.”

The Gospel of Luke was published after the private edition of the Gospel of Mark, but before the public edition.

In the article on the authorship of the Gospel of Mark, it was stated that the historical literary evidence demonstrates that Mark was published privately first in Rome and then published publicly for all the churches with Peter’s approval. This is important for understanding the order of the gospels.

Clement of Alexandria shares that the gospels with the genealogies were published first (Matthew and Luke). Eusebius quotes from Clement of Alexandria’s Hypotyposes in his Church History (6.14.5) where Clement mentiones the order of the gospels.

“Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first.”

However, Irenaeus, as seen above, puts the publishing of Mark’s gospel after Matthew’s but before Luke’s. These two statements can easily be reconciled when one understands that Mark’s gospel had two editions and Luke’s Gospel was published between them. So Luke’s Gospel was published after the private edition of the Gospel of Mark, but before the public edition.

Summary:

The universal and undisputed testimony of the early church was that the Gospel that is attributed to Luke was written by Luke, the physician and companion of Paul.


END NOTES:

1. Hiebert, D. Edmond, An Introduction to the New Testament, Moody Press, Chicago, 1975, 114-115

2. Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction, Inter-Varsity Press, Third Edition Revised, 1970, 99

3. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from The Early Church Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, Reprint 2001 at CCEL Internet Library

4. Hendriksen, William, New Testament Commentary, Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978

5. Black, C. Clifton, Mark Images of an Apostolic Interpreter, Fortress Press, 2001, 125

6. Black, C. Clifton, Mark Images of an Apostolic Interpreter, Fortress Press, 2001, 126